On the Monday before Thanksgiving, skies were overcast in Sea Bright and there was a damp, bone chilling wind. The sidewalks crowded in summer with beachgoers are now narrow corridors made up of the destroyed innards of the downtown's businesses.
Directly across from the public beach is what's left of Kind Burger, the popular burger joint opened this summer by the Cafaro family of Rumson, with a special gluten-free menu in honor of their 6-year-old daughter Olivia.
Where a few weeks ago the aroma of grilled beef flowed through it's open garage-style front windows, now there is stench of sewage. Gone is the bright, modern space with chic black chairs and butcher block tables.
Inside the dark cave-like shell, Kind Burger owner Anthony Cafaro wipes down a table with industrial cleaner, cutting through the mud, sand and who knows what else, on it's surface.
"I just found a table that was in somebody's lot in a garbage pile," he says with a grim expression. Shaking his head, "It's awful."
Cafaro, like his neighbors along this strip of Ocean Avenue, is still picking through the wreckage following superstorm Sandy. He, his family and some buddies have spent the last two weeks cleaning out the place, removing sand and debris.
"I don't know how much of my kitchen equipment is salvageable," he said. Cafaro can't plug in his griddle, his biggest asset, to check if it still works.
There's still no electricity. Electrical meters on his building, like everything else, were drowned beneath six feet of water. The water pushed up and under the plywood covering the front windows spray painted with, "Be Kind to us Sandy," its force bending the steel door that leads to the back yard.
The back yard was where Cafaro had his two walk-in refrigerators. They're still there, but are pinned behind the bathrooms of Sea Bright Public Beach which floated, as a whole building, down the alley and landed here, with the giant ice cream sundae statues from neighboring Gracie and the Dudes. It looks as if someone carelessly parked their trailer home here.
Cafaro came in to clean the griddle, the heart of his once immaculate kitchen. "I don't know if it's futile or what," he said, "but if I can save it, I'm going to save it."
The family, which includes Cafaro's wife and co-owner, Yvette, and their three young children, doesn't know yet if anything in their place will be covered by insurance since they don't own the building. Flood insurance, they were told, is part of their lease, but the landlord hasn't furnished the policy yet.
"I used all my money on this place," he said. "I don't have any more money. What's devastating is that it's total."
Touring the place you can hear in his voice and see in the red rims around his eyes, the pain of the loss, the fear of the future and the stress of phone calls, the forms to be filled out, and the giant question marks that hang from every sodden surface here.
"The hardest part is we just don't have any answers."
Still there is hope.
"We've been speechless by the outpouring of help," he said, recalling how fellow Holy Cross dads "came in here and got dirty with me."
Now one, Sean Moran of Rumson, has started a Kind Burger fundraising page on Indigogo, the crowd funding platform. Visitors to the site can choose their funding options from Free Burger ($50) and Your Own Chair ($250), all the way up to Family Party ($2,500).
By Tuesday afternoon Rebuild Kind Burgers had already racked up almost $9,000 of its $60,000 goal.
Pausing in conversation Cafaro turns his attention to his phone. "My friend, a Holy Cross dad, just bought the booth. He just bought the booth," he said staring at the phone, with a quiet, stunned expression at the $1,000 gift.
This is hard for Cafaro, as much as he appreciates it.
"I've been on the other side of this, doing fundraising," he said, "It's so uncomfortable to be on the receiving end. It's a lot easier to give than receive."
At the same time you can see Cafaro is buoyed by the support. He accepts it because he needs it. This is his livelihood. Before the storm Sea Bright was in its quiet season and yet Kind Burger was still doing new business, like deliveries for school lunches in Fair Haven.
Can Kind Burger make it back for the summer? Cafaro can't even say.
"We're going to come back, we just don't know how yet. Cafaros don't quit."
Patch will continue to follow the Cafaros' story as the family attempts to save their business. If you would like to donate to their cause, visit Rebuild Kind Burgers.